Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ecofest Barrie 2012 focus on water

As June arrives, Barrie’s third Ecofest is upon us. I look forward to participating, as this year promises to again be even more exciting than the last. Find out more at, or read on.
As always, the event is right on the lakefront, and this year the Ladies of the Lake have got some amazing things in store, hosting a state-of-the-art interactive multi-media display designed by university students which showcases future visions of a water center on Lake Simcoe.
Saturday evening you can even enjoy a deluxe 4-course meal right on the bay, including dessert & wine for only $40 per person! The menu, prepared by Unity Market Café, features local & organic themes. That leads into the third annual Trashfusion eco-couture design awards and both silent and live auctions. Auction items will have a focus on experiences and excursions, with trips, stays, meals, and activities to broaden your horizons.
This year’s Ecofest is also a 2-day folk music festival, in the “Twig Pod” wicker band shell. And if that peaks your architectural interest, other examples of sustainable portable structures will abound: a cloth yurt, a wooden geodome, a fully-equipped food-growing aquaponics trailer (sponsored by Homegrown Hydroponics) and the return of “Eco-pod” energy-efficient affordable housing.
At the Green Mile interactive “pit stop” you can learn, ride, share, and test-drive bikes, hybrids, electrics and more! Check out the other vendors, showcasing sustainable and affordable alternatives to business-as-usual.
This year’s theme is WATER. Our water is to be celebrated and protected, yet is still under threat. Special guests TVO’s Water Brothers will share what they’ve learned from their travels and studies, and representatives of the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Taskforce will update us on what’s happening with the Mega-quarry proposal to the west of us.
Engage with the Root of the Idea discussions. Saturday’s topic is bottled water with the Council of Canadians, while Sunday will feature a panel of local leaders discussing the creation of sustainable communities around Lake Simcoe.
Be sure to visit the Awareness Hub, a series of large tents filled with displays and presentations by local non-profit and educational organizations. The weather will be no obstacle; even if water falls from the sky, you can stay safe & dry inside the big tops.
This event will help teach us all just how to save our planet, our health, our money, our food, and our water which is the lifeblood of each and every one of us. So come down to the shoreline and learn how to do the simplest things to change your life and pass a healthy, vibrant planet and future along to our kids and grandkids. It’s the best gift we have to give.
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Ecofest offers much in the vein of sustainability"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

Working on a better city for cycling & walking

(Apologies for late posting, this event has already taken place)
I have written before about active transportation (AT), which is most ways of getting around besides driving in a car. Walking, cycling, skateboarding, roller-skating or -blading, possibly blended with transit. (Barrie’s buses will soon feature bike racks to extend your bicycle range throughout the city). AT benefits our health, environment, and economy, so getting around actively is a win-win-win.
While Barrie is subject to the same frustrating institutional inertia of car-centred street design as most North American cities, there is good news, too. On the Active Transportation Barrie (ATB) working group, a stakeholder committee stretching back 4 years, I’ve witnessed the growth and spread of many new specific initiatives as well as an overall shift in attitude. Barrie’s plans now take more account of AT when building new neighbourhoods or redeveloping existing streets. Bike lanes aren’t multiplying like rabbits yet, but bus bike racks and bike lockers at key locations are a sign of things to come.
Starting the season off right, Mountain Equipment Co-op and ATB partner up for MEC Bikefest on Saturday, May 26. The fun starts downtown at Fred Grant Memorial Square, which will be closed to car traffic. This free, family-friendly event features special group rides, cycling vendors and clinics, and the chance to try out various bikes even if you don’t have your own. Group rides led by event co-sponsors include Mountain Biking 101 with Hardwood Hills at 11:30 AM, a family ride with the Barrie Cycling Club at 1 PM, and Georgian BMW/Mini’s ride at 2:45.
Monday, May 28 marks the start of Cycling Safety Week in Barrie. Monday will also be Barrie’s Bike to School/Work Day, and we challenge all of our community members to participate, asking employers and educators to help facilitate rides to and from places of work.
We will be arriving on bikes at City Hall around 6 PM as Acting Mayor Councillor Robinson raises the new ATB flag at City Hall for the week, and signs the International Charter for Walking. I encourage you to ride to City Hall to witness the flag-raising and signing; afterward, members of the Barrie Cycling Club will lead a slow, social, family-friendly ride around the lakeshore & back to City Hall.
If a person, family, business, school or organization you know has made a special contribution supporting AT, you can nominate them for Barrie’s Active Transportation Award. Past recipients have been the Walking School Bus at Johnson Street Public School and Barrie Central’s Firebird Community Cycle. For information, visit the Active Transportation page on Barrie's website.
We encourage all citizens of Barrie to bike to work or school this Monday, or join us to raise high the Active Transportation Barrie flag!
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Active Transportation of great benefit to Barrie"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Educational Bottle Ban: Academic Institutions Banning Plastic Water Bottles

The following is a guest blog by Hanna Lindstrom of the project.

“Ban the bottle” is the latest battle cry heard on over 90 college campuses across the world as the “green” movement expands to another hot topic that cannot be ignored by school administrators, principals and policymakers. Recently, environmental concerns and other issues regarding the sale of bottled water have caused many schools to consider banning plastic containers completely from their campuses, or at least restricting their sales. The bottles are a wasteful use of resources, many argue, and contribute to landfill crowding and oceanic debris on a massive scale.

Some changes have already taken place. Loyola University in Chicago handed out reusable water bottles to freshman students last fall in hopes that these could replace disposable plastic.  For the 2012-13 school year they plan to phase out the sale of plastic bottles on campus, including all cafeterias and affiliated retail outlets. Other schools, including Princeton and Dartmouth, are setting up hydration stations or water filling stations all over campus to discourage students from buying bottled water. At Harvard University, the Harvard Faculty Club is doing its part for the environment by replacing plastic bottles with glass bottles using filtered carbonated water from machines. Harvard estimates that these changes will eliminate many thousands of plastic and glass bottles put to waste each year. Both Cornell and Yale are working on bottled water alternatives on their campuses as well, and schools across the nation and the world are following suit.

The packaged-water business is a multi-million industry in the United States. It's estimated that Americans consume over 9 billion gallons of bottled water every year. As the numbers continue to increase, so do the questions and concerns about the sustainability of bottled water. Colleges around the world are taking a stand, citing three main reasons for switching to alternative water options.

1.  There is no evidence that bottled water is healthier than tap water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that at least 20% of bottled water actually comes at least in part from tap water. In addition, tap water in the United States is well-regulated, but bottled water is not. The Food and Drug allows for a small amount of contamination from E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria in bottled water, while tap water is not allowed to have any bacteria or contaminants at all.

2.  The biggest concern regarding bottled water involves environmental issues. Though plastic bottles are recyclable, it's estimated that only 20% are actually recycled. The rest end up in landfills, taking decades if not centuries to breakdown. Those that do not make it to a garbage can can end up in waterways, streams, and oceans. According to some estimates, plastic water bottles can survive for a hundred years or more in a landfill or at sea.

3.  Bottled water is not a good investment for consumers. It costs more per ounce than gasoline and thousands more than tap water. Consumers spend billions of dollars on bottled water. The bottled-water manufacturers similarly spend a lot of money advertising a product they claim is “healthier than tap water” because it comes from “natural sources.” With rising college costs and growing staff and program cuts, many administrators find it hard to justify selling bottled water on their campuses.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the stakes, the bottled water industry is fighting back.  It has increased its advertising of bottled water on campuses and universities in the U.S. and abroad. More than ever, manufacturers are reaffirming that bottled water is healthier than tap water, more convenient, and that the plastic bottle is not harmful to the environment because it's recyclable.

While some critics believe that banning or restricting bottled water on campuses is not the answer, the debate continues. Students and administrators are increasingly turning away from industry claims, testing the waters themselves to look for facts. With no real proof that bottled water is healthier or safer than most tap water, with overflowing landfills, and with the high cost of bottled water, many colleges and universities are just saying “no” to bottled water. The risks are just too high and too much is at stake.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

We need our NRTEE

The root of good, democratic government is the idea that the public are best served by having input into decisions that affect them. In a diverse, pluralistic society like Canada, with so many different regions, cultures, and industries, it’s even more important to draw from a wide cross-section of the populace in crafting policy. Plus, as our world becomes ever more complex, the role of independent, non-partisan, expert advice is crucial.
That’s why the government, in past years, set up a variety of arm’s-length advisory bodies, such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). Canada’s cultural and economic history is deeply tied to our environment. Our identity is locked up with images of forests, lakes, mountains, farms, and wildlife. (Just watch the national anthem films shown at TV station sign-off or movie theatres and you’ll know what I mean). Founded on fur and lumber and other natural products, even today our economy depends heavily on our environment; clearly we must maintain a healthy ecology while we work to improve our economy.
And this was a challenge the NRTEE tackled head on. Drawing together distinguished experts from politics, industry, and science, their specialty was crafting in-depth studies to help politicians plan public policy. A diverse bunch themselves, they worked together very well, and managed to reach strong consensus. Most of all, each member was very committed to Canada’s best interests – I know, because I personally knew at least three NRTEE members, including a former Chair and two Vice-Chairs.
But the NRTEE has fallen prey to the insecurities of the Harper Government, which is determined to silence any dissenting voices. With a ruling mandate from fewer than 40% of Canadian voters, the Harper government has adopted a liquidation sale attitude toward our natural resources. In the name of making a fast buck, they bulldoze over any potential source of objection, especially to tar sands expansion and the associated new pipelines. Sincere respondents at environmental assessment hearings (including myself) are dismissed as radicals, charities are accused of laundering foreign money, and advocates for the environment are threatened with audits and the loss of charitable status.
The NRTEE’s main sin? For years, they have consistently reported the consensus of industry and ecological experts that we need a carbon tax, and they’ve shown it’s not only affordable, but can even help our economy innovate and grow. Of course, this is heresy to Harper. The NRTEE’s politically-motivated execution comes despite the fact that the majority of its members were appointed by this current government, including three former Tory cabinet ministers! In the drive to build a total echo chamber, the Harper government isn’t satisfied merely to continue ignoring NRTEE reports; now they are terminating one of the best advisory bodies the Canadian government has ever had. It will be sorely missed.
TAKE ACTION: For ways you can help stop the budget implementation bill killing the NRTEE, visit this website.

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Ecology as important as economy restoration"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Toward a Better Future: Wind Power

Guest blogger: Shawn P. Conroy

Energy prices have been continuing to rise North America. And yet, in some countries like Germany electricity bills have been falling. Countries like China are increasing their wind generating capacity by almost incredible amounts. China has select wind power as part of a suite of power generating options because it's affordable, predictable and not prone to massive failure.  Here's a video talking about the current state of wind power around the world:

What I found most interesting about the video is that generating electricity out of wind power was something seriously considered before we had too much cheap oil. But as oil prices rise wind power becomes even more feasible. If you are interested in common myths about wind power being talked about here are two web pages: One from the Canadian Wind Energy Association and another from Why Wind. Some of these myths were discussed briefly in the video.

The video also pointed out grid storage--the idea storing power you've made at low demand times and using it during high demand times. You can find out more by reading my previous article about Plug-in Electric Vehicles.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ban bottled water? Thanks for the suggestion.

UPDATE: Today's Barrie Examiner has another letter from Nestlé's John Challinor who accuses me of publishing false statements in a poorly-researched column. Yet he doesn't actually demonstrate any errors, all he does is put forward some irrelevant comparisons. An excellent response was submitted by Don MacNeil. 

Last week in lamenting Barrie’s litter epidemic, I urged readers to “refuse bottled water”, a choice I’ve already made. This seems to have ruffled the feathers of the water-bottling folks at Nestlé Waters, who wrote in this week refuting what they took as a call to ban bottled water. Why are they so concerned that they’d take my helpful suggestion as a call for a ban? Perhaps because such calls are being made, across Canada and right here in Barrie, on very strong grounds.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think anyone’s actually demanding we outlaw bottled water. There are education programs to help people understand that tap water is just as safe and convenient, easier on the environment, and vastly cheaper than disposable bottled water. And there are campaigns asking municipalitiesschool boards, and other organizations to “ban” bottled water within their own facilities. This just means they stop selling it on their premises and commit to providing convenient alternatives, such as fountains or filling stations for refillable bottles.
Is bottled water so bad? Nestlé’s letter says not all water bottles get trashed; they make up only 1-4% of our landfill. Yet if you separate garbage into 50 categories of trash, any type will be about that proportion, so it’s a meaningless assertion. They also take pride in paying 50% of the blue box program cost, which means taxpayers, including folks like me who don’t create this waste, must cough up the other half!
What are the relevant numbers? The energy to make each bottle, run the plant, ship the bottle, chill it, and recycle it would fill each water bottle ¼ with crude oil. Although if bottles were truly recycled, the old plastic would go into the new bottles, which it doesn’t *.
Tap water has fewer bacteria than 70% of bottled water; Canada’s had 29 recalls of 49 bottled water products between 2000 and 2009. And 40% of bottled water is just tap water in a throwaway container.
Why pay 1000 times more for the same thing? The most successful marketing campaign of all time? Collective lunacy? Both? The Lorax film depicts the madness of marketing bottled air, an allegory for bottled water, but apparently we’re the crazy ones.
To learn more about bottled water’s impacts and alternatives, meet Ontario’s eco-adventurers the Water Brothers at Ecofest Barrie on June 9th, in honour of this year’s water theme. As they note in their episode “Bottlegate”, we don’t live in a desert; must we carry water every time we step out, lest we dehydrate before our next stop? Why not re-fill a bottle with the best drinking water in the world, free from the tap?
My last column didn’t promote a water ban, but this one does. The Council of Canadians has formally requested Barrie follow other municipalities, including Tiny Township, in adopting the Blue Communities resolution, which includes not selling bottled water in civic spaces. Contact your Councillor and urge the City to do its part to make tap water more convenient than bottled, to lead by example in protecting our water, environment, energy, and wallets while reducing waste and costs.

* In their FAQ, Nestle seems to indicate that they don't use recycled plastic in their bottles, but are still researching it. Yet elsewhere, they have some press releases about using recycled plastic specifically in the Montclair brand of bottled water. So my original comment must be incorrect, as I was misled by the information on their official website.
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "City must lead residents back to the taps"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is 60% tap water.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Plenty of ways to keep our beautiful planet squeaky clean

Last week’s Spring Into Clean was an annual ritual Living Green helped found back in 2003. From a few dozen people picking up litter around the lakeshore, it has since spread to parks, schoolyards, ditches and parking lots across Barrie and includes thousands of students, families, coworkers, and other citizen groups. Hopefully you took part, but if you didn’t, don’t worry: the battle against litter can still use recruits.
The City of Barrie also has an Adopt-a-Park/Trail program. If your friends, classmates, coworkers, team or family have the gumption, sign up to look after a park for a year. You commit to spring and fall litter clean-ups on your schedule, and otherwise keep an eye on things to let the City know of any major trash or vandalism in the meantime.
Myself, I’m the proud adoptive “father” of two parks. With Living Green, my family and I tidy Queen’s Park in downtown Barrie twice a year, while with the Green Party, we do the same along the trail in Sunnidale Park each spring and fall.
But this year’s day at Queen’s Park featured a nice surprise, as it had less litter than usual. The reason, we discovered, is that L.S. Shane of Unity Market & Studios has been diligently taking himself and, when available, volunteers on downtown litter clean-ups every Sunday afternoon. Since they often visit this park, the usual backlog of winter waste wasn’t waiting, although sadly we did still manage to fill several bags with fresh trash. So if you want to help but can’t wait for fall, or don’t want to adopt your own park, you can join Shane any Sunday at 2 pm at Unity (at the bottom of Toronto Street) and help keep our downtown presentable.
But of course it would be best if there weren’t litter to gather. The City is always trying to improve the presence of trash receptacles, even introducing deeply-buried year-round garbage cans, to help with the winter months when cans used to be absent. There is also a slow but steady growth in the availability of recycling bins in public spaces.
Yet the true tragedy of litter is that, even when picked up, it remains an environmental catastrophe. Litter sent to landfill doesn’t disappear, it just becomes tomorrow’s problem. So the real challenge for everyone is to create less in the first place – less waste, even less recycling. Carry a mug to get coffee or tea, instead of needing a throwaway. Refuse bottled water, and fill a metal bottle with Barrie’s crystal-clear tapwater (filtered, if you prefer). Eat an apple or banana instead of a plastic-wrapped candy bar or bag of chips. Carry reusable shopping bags. If we don’t make litter, we won’t have to dispose of it.

UPDATE: This column generated a letter to the editor from Nestlé Waters Canada. You can read it here, and see my response in tomorrow's column.

Another UPDATE: Another letter to the editor ("Letter of the Day"), this time from Don MacNeil of Barrie's Council of Canadians responding to Nestlé 
Published in my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Plenty of ways to keep our beautiful city squeaky clean".
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of the Ontario School of Economic Science and Earthsharing Canada.